Martin A. Schmidt, the 19th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), took office on July 1, 2022. Prior to coming to RPI, Schmidt served as the provost of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since 2014 and was also MIT's senior academic and budget officer. He was responsible for the Institute’s educational programs, as well as for the recruitment, promotion, and tenuring of faculty. As provost, he worked closely with MIT’s deans to establish academic priorities, and with other members of the Institute’s senior team to manage financial planning and research support. He also had oversight of MIT’s international engagements.
Schmidt was a member of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty since 1988, and also served as director of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories from 1999 to 2006 and as associate provost from 2008 to 2013. He was also the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an international organization aimed at advancing technology.
Schmidt led many of MIT’s efforts to foster an inclusive and well-supported community. In 2016, he began a process to reimagine MIT’s approach to building welcoming and inclusive communities. He provided leaders across campus with resources to improve the climate within their academic areas, and undertook a major restructuring of the Institute Community and Equity Office. He also oversaw the development of an Institute-wide Strategic Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), as well as an Ad Hoc Committee on Arts, Culture, and DEI.
Working closely with former MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Schmidt launched the university's Values Statement Committee and increased resources for critical student support services. He also created a new faculty development effort to offer training and coaching for faculty as they advance in leadership roles.
In 2018, Schmidt played a central role in the creation of Schwarzman College. Made possible by a $350 million gift, Schwarzman College represented the most significant organizational change at MIT in 70 years. The College aims to strengthen MIT’s core computer science activities by hiring 25 additional faculty; to bridge disciplines between computer science and other disciplines through recruitment of 25 new joint faculty; and to create a new unit to focus on the social and ethical responsibilities of computing.
Together with the provost of Harvard University, Schmidt has co-chaired the board of edX since 2014. He was deeply involved in the execution of a transformative transaction, announced in June 2021, to spin off part of edX to a commercial partner and use the $800 million proceeds to create a new nonprofit. This new nonprofit, still in development, will support an open-source learning platform, and assist learners who are not well served by current online platforms through grant-making and partnerships.
A seasoned researcher and entrepreneur
In the 1980s, as a graduate student, Schmidt broadened his horizons beyond his early interest in microelectronics, turning his attention to miniature sensors for use in factories and vehicles. He later conducted research on sensors to detect turbulence.
During his time as an MIT faculty member, Schmidt’s enthusiasm for interdisciplinary collaboration drew him to partner with colleagues outside his own field. Attracted to problems with practical applications, he also found himself working closely with industrial collaborators at 3M, Bosch, and General Motors.
A seasoned inventor and entrepreneur, Schmidt holds more than 30 issued U.S. patents, and has played a part in starting seven companies. His entrepreneurship has its roots in the 1990s, when he cultivated an interest in microfluidics. His work to develop miniature chemical reactors gave rise to one startup; two others grew out of microfluidics research involving the manipulation of individual cells in blood.
Schmidt earned his B.S degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1981. He earned his S.M. in 1983 — largely for research conducted at Lincoln Laboratory — and his Ph.D. in 1988, both in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) from MIT.